Everyone should read Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison. My own experience with being an invisible Black Person in America almost got me killed, yet severely injured when I was in college.
This post touches on a particular brand of invisibility that Black Women in America deal with allatime. I’m talking about our representation – or lack thereof – on television and TV shows. One of the key factors in why Scandal is so popular with Black Women in America, and I go into more detail on that on my Why I Love Scandal page here on my blog.
But for now, I’m going to deal with the show Criminal Minds. Because I’m re-watching it/getting caught up on it right now. I’ve just started the 8th season over at my Darkside of the Net TV watching place – cuz Netflix doesn’t have it on instant watch.
Criminal Minds is one of those police procedural shows with an ensemble cast. Others that fall under that heading might be the CSI shows, Law & Order, Law & Order: SVU, NYPD Blue and so on.
With such a high number of main cast membership on these shows, you’d think that Black women would have a fair shake at getting represented, but we don’t. Many of these shows are pretty diverse in other ways, they have one or more Black males, a lot of women, sometimes have older characters, which sticks out in the youth crazed genre that is television. But they seem to forget about the Black woman altogether too much of the time.
It is 2013. I am not going to be happy with “oh hey we cast a Black guy, so we got that covered” thing anymore. Truth be told, I was never happy with that. Casting people need to understand that gone are the days where we are just going to be relieved and happy to see a Black character showing up at all.
There is a thing called color-blind casting or more accurately non-traditional casting. It is defined as the casting of ethnic minority and female actors in roles where race, ethnicity, or sex is not germane. Shonda Rhimes uses that technique to cast her shows, and with her track record, you can see that casting for true diversity does nothing to hinder the success of her projects.
I only mention success because for decades POC and women were not cast with the excuse that the show would be unpopular and subsequently fail. So let’s toss that out of the window. That train has been done left the station some 20 plus years ago. Time to get casting mindsets fully into the present.
What hindered the creators of Criminal Minds from ever casting a Black woman as one of the ensemble characters? The series premiered in 2005, not 1965 so why? The other excuse that has been brought forward is how unrealistic the casting of a Black woman would be in that situation blah blah blah.
Well ok let’s have a look see shall we?
There are about 13,000 agents in the FBI, 675 are Black. Out of the 7 original cast members on Criminal Minds 1 of them is Black. I just woke up, but ok lets say the math fits. There are are 2,500 women in the FBI, 125 of them Black. Out of the 7 original cast members on Criminal Minds, 3 of them are women. Do some magical math, and I’m still not seeing any good reason why not even one of the cast members could not have been a Black woman.
I would have cast the character Jennifer “JJ” Jareau with a Black woman, and have had Penelope Garcia actually been a Latina. I think it was on the TV show 24 were we’ve already had a Latina computer geek on screen. Nothing new, nothing out of the realm of reality either. The typical skin tone and gender of the computer tech wiz has been changing for a long time in reality, time to update our fictional characterizations too.
There was plenty of opportunity to bring a Black woman into the main cast, as there were several cast replacements as the series went on. David Rossi could have been Diana Rossi (iGiggle, but hey, you know I’m right!), Emily Prentiss could have been a Black woman, and finally when they had to replace Prentiss, they could have opted for a Black woman to play Alex Blake. Though I suppose they considered snagging Jeanne Tripplehorn was pretty awesome. I submit 10 or more Black female actors with Tripplehorn’s skills, gravitas and face/name recognition. Just sayin.
I also submit to you the REAL FBI’s own website and who do they highlight first on their “most senior and successful female special agents” page? Why that would be Cassandra Chandler, a Black woman.
Driven by legal demands for equality by Blacks, Hispanics and women and by the practical need for diversity, the FBI has in the past two decades been casting a wider and wider net for agents. One result has been an increasing number of women. (source)
But somehow, in fiction the buck always stops once the white female quotient has been attained. When the reality is that WOC are increasingly among the numbers filling the diversity need in the FBI, and indeed in law enforcement agencies of any kind nation wide.
I think maybe fans and viewers of Criminal Minds might have voiced the same complaint that I have here. I’ve noticed already in the first few episodes of Season 8, Black women popping up on my screen left and right.
That is too little, too late, and really, that does nothing to make up for the fact that they never gave a main character job to a talented Black female actor. And let’s be real, the tossing around of Black female supporting, or reccuring, guest starring characters has always been used in lieu of the lead role, the main cast member. Tired of it. No more excuses.
I will just briefly touch upon the other usual thing that happens more often than not, when they do cast a Black character, female or otherwise. They tend to opt for the phenotype that is closer to white. For example Derek Morgan is very light skinned with European (if you will) facial characteristics, and for the blip of 8 episodes that a Black female was cast during JJ’s maternity leave, the same thing. Very light skin, European phenotype:
This isn’t about colorism, which is a THING in the Black community, this is about Hollywood’s comfort zone when it comes to putting Black people on screen.
I wrote all about exactly what I mean HERE. I may import that post soon, as I never know if that blog space (my archive and original ABW site) will be available or you’ll have a hard time pulling up that post. I’ll quote myself a little bit so you know what I’m talking about:
Ask yourself why is it always the bi-racial, the lighter skin, the straighter hair, the skinny body type? Why always the closest to being white without actually being white? Why always the ambiguously beige? Why should I accept that that is the only way to go? Why should I accept crumbs from the table when I’ve been starving for centuries?
To advocate for the dark skin, the wide nose, the full lips, the afro, the full figure does not automatically mean I’m hating on the other types. That is where we start to get derailed. As Black people in America we’ve always been advocating for equality. That is what I’m talking about. Equal representation. Fill in all the colors of our rainbow.
Hollywood Casting: WAKE UP!
I would like to see ME up on my screen a lot more please.
Tired of being Black Woman Invisible.